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by Ismael Ripoll

About the author:
Ph.D. from the Polytechnic University of Valencia in 1996. Professor in operating systems at the Department of DISCA . Research interests include real-time scheduling and operating systems. Linux user since 1994. Hobbies: Trekking through the Pyrennes mountains, skiing, and home electronics.

Translated to English by:
Javier Cano Perez <jcano(at)iti.upv.es>



The StarOffice Suite, part II (Word Processor)

star office


This is the second article on the office suite StarOffice. In the first, once we had gone over the whole suite, we focused on designing presentations. Now, with the second article on this series, we will face the star tool on every office suite: the text editor.


New updates

Only two months ago I wrote the previous article. Since then, three reviews (service packs) of StarOffice suite have been made public by StarDivision.(http://www.stardivision.com). However, they are more likely a new and whole installation than a patch on the distribution. Program stability have been improved by large, and now every function works properly. Spanish and Catalan special symbols (accents and dieresis) are perfectly recognized, so I expect other country keyboards will be equally well handled. This distribution comes with a fully installation manual (both in html and pdf), where there are answers for every problem that could come up.

In the previous article on this series I made a mistake with the data. I wrote that StarOffice design had been made thinking on portability, and that only 20% code was dependant on the O.S.
That was true on version 3.1, however in the current version, that's 4.0, only 0.5% is dependent on the platform. Correction pointed out by Michael, from StarDivision.


Word processor

I am not interested here in providing with a tutorial of this word processor, but making a description of the possibilities of this tool. There are hundreds of books, and I say that seriously,   in which you could find in detail how to take advantage of word processors.

This article is being written with the StarOffice word processor.

Let's go now to the working environment.

The working window is composed by the next elements:

These are the tools as they appear after installation, but we can configure them as we like, adding or eliminating buttons on each of the previous bars, or even creating new bars. We can easily configure bars location by drag'n'drop them on the desktop as we prefer (except control and menu bars that are fixed at the bottom and upper, respectively).

URL addresses are used to refer documents, both local and remotes.


The work starts

First of all we have to create a new document. This can be done in four different ways:


Text Editing

I have divided in three the functionally provided by StarOffice. Depending on your knowledge of word processors and your needs, you could pass over some of the next sections.

Basic edition

It has all basic functionality for working on font format. Hot buttons are placed in the object tool bar for accessing most used attributes.

Font type, size, bold, italic and underlined.

This and other attributes can be accessed and modified from the contextual menu. From the menu bar (Format>Character) you can order a beer and a beef steak, but talking about StarOffice you must resign to open a dialog window from which you have access to every attribute.

Nothing lacks respect to the paragraph format. In the object bar, close to the button set of bold, italic, etc., we have another button set used for aligning, enumeration or itemize selecting and paragraph indenting. It is also possible to change the paragraph attributes from the contextual menu and from the menu bar. Tabulation points management is exactly done as in the Word: making use of the horizontal rule.

Hands up all of you who have ever get in trouble when configuring the page format with the Word. Weirdly?, the Word distributes the page format among several dialog windows, which at the same time are accessed from different points in the menu hierarchy. Luckily for us, StarOffice provides with a single page in order to modify at a time all page characteristics: Format > Page. Moreover, some of the most used operations can also be found in the main tool bar. From this point, page type (Letter, A3, A4, etc.), heading and bottom size, border style, background color and column number and style (in case of a text with two or more columns).

Printing options are fairly scarce, as only PostScript printers are supported. Anyway, providing we have well configured the system with a proper filter (normally gs will be) in the file /etc/printcap, we should be able to print without any other problem.

Intermediate edition

One of the first characteristics that word processors incorporated were the style set. Styles are sets of attributes --of font, of paragraph or both-- grouped in a name. For example, we can define the style "title" as Helvetica font, 14pt, bold and italic. Each time we need to create a new title  we'll just assign to it the "title" style. Advantages are clear:

StarOffice offers a whole predefined style set that we can use in case we don't want to create them ourselves.

Accessing of a wide range of styles is very interesting   in order to allow us to choose a proper one when writing any kind of document,   on the other hand, it isn't a good idea having to scan the style we have chosen in the long list of available styles. The way in which StarOffice shows styles it quite good. Styles that have been applied to the document are shown in a pull down list in the object bar, so we only need to search them one time in the global style list. Apart from this, the global style list (that we can activate pressing  the  button) allow us to organize it in different ways: automatic (taking into account the template document StarOffice selects the best styles); all the styles;  applied styles; HTML styles; user styles; or in a hierarchy tree.

Not only is the set of styles that we want to have available configurable, but also styles are organized depending on the main attribute defined by them: paragraph, font, page or frame style. However, paragraph styles are the most useful.

We have access to a good synonym dictionary. At the moment, only English and German versions are available.

Tables are another expected feature of every good word processor. A curiosity that called my attention in the Word is that it can't join cells vertically. Here, we haven't that drawback.

Another thing I missed in Word is the little computing power achieved in its tables, in other words, a Word table is very far from being used as a spreadsheet --among other things, it seems to me that in this way the user is encouraged to purchase a spreadsheet--. Text editor tables (nothing to do with the spreadsheets in this suite) are real spreadsheets, object bar changes to a full interface to help inserting formulas in the cells. The mouse can help us to select sets of cells when building formulas.

Frames are used to place text and other objects inside a page with total freedom. Any object we want (table, image, text, etc.) can be inserted in a frame. A frame behaves as an object container, in such a way that if we move the frame, all objects in it will also move with the frame. Object distribution inside the frame search the same behavior that in a normal page.

There are two different ways to organize text in different columns:
(1) apply column distribution to all the document;
(2) create a column structure inside a floating frame. With the second scheme we avoid the tedious method used in the Word to achieve documents with different number of columns in two pages.


Advanced Edition

Once all document has been written, paragraphs can quickly be organised by holding <Ctrl> key down, and moving it with the cursor keys (same as <Shift>-<Alt> in the Word).

Mathematics expressions can be created well with a help option menu, or writing them in a very similar way than working with LaTeX. This expression:

sum from {i le t le n} { 1 over {x_i + y_i } b_{ij} } = {prod from {k %notequal i} x_k - x_k } over {prod from {k %notequal j} x_k - x_k }

gives as result the next FORMULA: Equation

One curious possibility is that of inserting animated text. This text shifts horizontally with a uniform movement, appearing from the right and then looping. With these kind of objects, a document becomes lively and funny.

We can insert a great variety of controls (buttons, mark cells, text fields, etc.) similar to those used in HTML forms. Once inserted , they behave as active objects. We can assign a macro (written in StartBasic or JavaScript) to some object action. It is similar to forms or visual programming.

From a number table, we can produce a bar graphic. I won't introduce all the options offered by StarOffice to draft and create the bar graphic, as I would like to finish this article before next version comes out. I will only remark that bar graphics are OLE objects and identically that happens in Windows, all program menus become embedded in the application menus.

Aside from the bar graphic, that it is an OLE object, we can also insert another objects: a spreadsheet, a presentation or an image.

Only long experienced users in the Word try to use styles. The situation in StarOffice is completely different; the style concept is perfectly integrated with the edition. Creating an style is as simple as selecting the object we want to use as pattern (a paragraph, for example) and press the style creation button (placed in the style window), then we give a name for it, and there you are, a new style has been created. From now on, this new style will appear in the style window. It's clear that this method makes unnecessary the "copy style" button of the Word, moreover, if we think about it we'll realize that this button is actually a patch to the style system. Modifying an existing style it's equally simple; you select the object with the set of attributes desired and then press the update style button (when modifying a paragraph style remember to select the final paragraph symbol, which has the attributes of the paragraph).

The navigator () is a window in which all the objects enclosed in the document are listed and divided in classes: Headers, tables, frames, drawings, OLE objects, marks, sections, bibliographic references, links, indexes and notes. From this window we can "navigate" through the text, getting the cursor at any of these objects.

The explorer and "beamer" mix allow us to scan all the disk files, included the graphic library that comes with StarOffice, and insert them in our document only by dragging and dropping them from the "beamer" window. New folders can be added (with the contextual menu) to the initial ones shown in the explorer if we need them. A file search facility is provided with the explorer in case we need its services.

At least, there is no need to worry about when handling large documents. Each chapter goes to a different document and then all them are gathered in a master document. The master document is an special kind of document composed of links to all the docs that support each different chapter. It's in the master document where all the page attributes are defined (headings, foot page, width and height, etc.), ignoring any other individual page attribute. The master document is the base to create content tables and indexes. As it is yet used in StarOffice, a window is provided with the tools needed to easily "navigate" along/through the documents composing the master document. Every moment we have a whole sight of the final document.

This is the working method: first, a new master document is created, then each document with a chapter needs to be dragged from the "beamer" to the "navigator", after that, indexes are inserted and, finally, headings and page numbers are arranged. The document is ready for printing. In case we wanted to change anything at the very last moment, it could be easily done by double clicking on the document, fit in the navigator we want to modify and edit it in a different window. In order to perfectly join all documents (for example, if we need a blank page between two chapters) we can add text in the master document.



Service pack3 has come up to the expectations of the most expedient Linux user when considering the program robustness and the quality of the facilities provided in it (users which find the reset button as something useless).

Considering the hardware requirements to get run StarOffice, it has to be said it isn't a specially little program. As we can see here:

   ps -m | grep soffice
   302   1  22258   6063  3248
32812 50064 14004 36060 18096     0 4460

the program is using up to 50Mb, taking into account that it is running on 64Mb RAM machine.

At the other hand, taking aback you provide it with enough memory, StarOffice will reward us with a high execution speed, both in basic edition operations and complex ones (like working with tables, objects, OLE or moving over large documents). All these operations can be performed without any perceptible delay. StarOffice is specially good at printing speed, as it has the ability of printing a document bigger than 100 pages in a few seconds.

This article lacks a lot of working capacities of StarOffice to be shown, but I believe the reader could imagine quite well what can expect from this suite.

This word processor, StarOffice, perfectly supplies the needs of any user, and even offers some DTP (Desktop Publishing) facilities. Thanks to the range of formats (RTF, HTML, Word6.0/95) accepted by its import/export capacity, you won't have the drawback of loosing old documents when trying to change to this suite. From the point of view of the program interface, handling and implemented functionality's, they are comparable to those offered by MsWord97; on the other hand (and luckily for us), referring to reliability and robustness StarOffice comes up better.

Interesting links:

StarDivision: http://www.stardivision.com
Caldera: http://www.caldera.com
First article in the series: StarOffice I

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© Ismael Ripoll , FDL
Translation information:
es --> -- : Ismael Ripoll <iripoll(at)disca.upv.es>
es --> en: Javier Cano Perez <jcano(at)iti.upv.es>

2002-10-23, generated by lfparser version 2.32